Observations from Ohio State's First Spring Practice of 2019

By Dan Hope and Colin Hass-Hill on March 6, 2019 at 11:26 am
Justin Fields leads the quarterbacks at Ohio State's first spring practice.

The Ohio State football team returned to the practice field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Wednesday morning for its first spring practice of 2019.

In his first practice as a Buckeye, new Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields took the majority of the first-team reps, while Matthew Baldwin was second in the order and Chris Chugunov was third. Every quarterback except Baldwin, also including walk-on Danny Vanatsky, had black stripes on their helmets.

Both Fields and Baldwin had some off-target throws during the hour of practice that was open to the media, but that’s expected from the first practice of the year; it’s far too early to make any statements about where the quarterbacks are in their development. Chugunov had one of the best throws of the day, connecting on a perfectly thrown deep pass to Chris Olave, who was among the standouts from the first hour of practice and appears primed to continue his ascent to be one of the Buckeyes’ top wide receivers this season.

New Ohio State head coach Ryan Day, meanwhile, spent some time overseeing the quarterbacks but did not work exclusively with that group after giving the pre-practice speech. During special teams periods of practice, Day oversaw those drills, leaving new quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Mike Yurcich to lead the signal-caller competition. Like former head coach Urban Meyer (who was not at Wednesday morning's open practice window), Day floated between various groups in practice, often watching from the middle of the field.

More observations from Wednesday morning’s inaugural practice of the spring:

Defensive position fluidity

Ryan Day replaced Greg Schiano, Alex Grinch, Taver Johnson and Bill Davis with Greg Mattison, Jeff Hafley, Matt Barnes and Al Washington, and the new coaching staff has both adjusted the positions of a few players and has certain players working at multiple positions.

Mattison appears to have brought the hybrid linebacker/safety position with him from Michigan. Brendon White and Jahsen Wint, both of whom played safety last year, spent the first hour of practice with the linebackers. White, who started for the second half of the 2018 season, could have an edge at the position, but that’s difficult to glean after just one practice.

Damon Arnette and Jeffrey Okudah seemed like the clear top two cornerbacks entering spring practice, allowing Shaun Wade to play multiple positions. He spent time at cornerback, nickelback and safety during the practice. Amir Riep had similarly flexible positions, playing both cornerback and safety.

With Jordan Fuller sidelined by injury this spring, Wade and Isaiah Pryor appeared to be at the top of the pecking order at safety, with Josh Proctor and Riep also working in at that position. Proctor had one of the defensive highlights of the day, breaking on a pass over the middle of the field to swat it down.

So far, the linebackers getting the majority of the first-team work appear to be the same linebackers who saw the most playing time at the position last season: Tuf Borland and Baron Browning at middle linebacker, with Malik Harrison and Pete Werner at outside linebacker. Others who saw regular reps included second-year linebackers Teradja Mitchell and Dallas Gant, with Gant intercepting a pass during 7-on-7 work.

First look at the offensive line

Thayer Munford will miss the entirety of spring practice and Rutgers transfer Jonah Jackson isn’t able to enroll at Ohio State until this summer, so the offensive line the Buckeyes put together during Wednesday’s practice will certainly not be the line they go with against Florida Atlantic on Aug. 31.

That said, here’s the first-team offensive line that we saw on Wednesday.

  • Left tackle: Joshua Alabi
  • Left guard: Gavin Cupp
  • Center: Josh Myers
  • Right guard: Wyatt Davis
  • Right tackle: Branden Bowen

Among those taking first-team repetitions, Bowen stood out for his eagerness and hustle. It’s easy to tell he’s a fifth-year senior battling for a starting spot. Bowen is competing for both right tackle and left guard starting positions.

The second-team offensive line we saw on Wednesday's practice:

  • Left tackle: Max Wray
  • Left guard: Kevin Woidke
  • Center: Matthew Jones
  • Right guard: Ryan Jacoby
  • Right tackle: Nicholas Petit-Frere

Woidke, a former walk-on lineman, was placed on scholarship a few weeks ago. He’s a rising fifth-year senior.

Players held out

Both Fuller and Munford attended Wednesday’s practice, but neither of them partook in any drills. Both returning starters will miss the entirety of spring practice after undergoing offseason surgeries. They spent the duration of practice with the training staff.

Ronnie Hickman, Demario McCall and Alex Williams also did not practice. Hickman is still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in high school. The injuries to McCall and Williams have not been disclosed. Both players spent time on the bike, stretching and doing other activities under the supervision of the training staff.

Kamryn Babb, Master Teague and Jerron Cage participated in portions of practice, but both second-year players also spent some time on the side of the field with the training staff instead of in drills. Marcus Williamson and Marcus Hooker wore orange jerseys, signaling they were also only partial participants in practice.

Taron Vincent was also sidelined at practice on Wednesday, but Day specifically mentioned Vincent, McCall and Cage as players who are currently banged up but who the Buckeyes expected back before the end of the spring.

Wide receiver Austin Mack, on the other hand, was back to participating fully in practice after being sidelined for the final six games of last season by foot surgery.

More observations
  • Mattison spent the majority of the first practice with the linebackers. The longtime defensive line coach largely left Larry Johnson to coach the linemen, instead spending most of his time helping Washington at linebacker.
  • Hafley worked with the punt returners, who were K.J. Hill and C.J. Saunders, during punt team work.
  • As he promised last month, Hafley was also seen coaching his cornerbacks to turn back and look for the ball during individual drills. When the cornerbacks and safeties were split up during individual drills, Hafley coached the cornerbacks while Barnes worked with the safeties.
  • With McCall and Teague both limited by injuries, early enrollee running back Marcus Crowley saw some reps with the first-team offense in his first-ever Ohio State practice, as did walk-on Amari McMahon, behind starter J.K. Dobbins.
  • Just four days removed from his workout at the NFL Scouting Combine, former Ohio State wide receiver Parris Campbell was on hand for practice. The Buckeye was wearing a sweatshirt from the #HowSheGoneEat clothing line recently launched by former teammates Tracy Sprinkle, Jalyn Holmes, Tyquan Lewis and Michael Hill.
  • Williams didn’t participate in any drills, but he’s one of the largest players on Ohio State. The second-year defensive end didn’t play a snap as a freshman, but he’s clearly one of the most physically imposing players.
  • Okudah, Olave, Binjimen Victor and Ellijah Gardiner were among the players to take reps as gunners.
  • Tim Hinton worked alongside Kevin Wilson with the tight ends for a bit during the practice. Wilson also spent some time working with the offensive line.
  • Haskell Garrett received first-team reps on defense at the 3-technique defensive tackle position formerly manned by Dre’Mont Jones.
  • Hill took first-team reps at H-back. He was followed by C.J. Saunders, then Jaelen Gill.
  • At one point during practice, Ohio State had a drill with wideouts taking reps from their respective positions. Mack, Olave, Gardiner and Garrett Wilson took reps in order at one of the receiver spots, and the order at the other wideout spot was Binjimen Victor, Jaylen Harris and L’Christian Smith.
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